This story was updated at 5:34 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, with more information.
After setting a Sept. 29 trial date for Janet Hinds, the motorist accused of hitting and killing Chattanooga police officer Nicholas Galinger, Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Don Poole said Tuesday that he would wait until jury selection to decide whether he will order a change of venue in the trial. Hinds' attorney, meanwhile, has accused Chattanooga police of withholding evidence he claims would be exculpatory.
Galinger, 38, was struck by a car on Feb. 23, 2019, while inspecting a manhole cover that had water flowing from it in the 2900 block of Hamill Road just after 11 p.m. The driver fled the scene.
ALLEGED WITHHOLDING OF EVIDENCE
Ben McGowan, Hinds' attorney, told Poole that it is "very apparent that there is additional evidence — exculpatory evidence — that is not being turned over."
He claimed that, based on the 105 body camera videos he received through the discovery process, there was an initial belief from officers at the scene that a second vehicle ran over Galinger while the victim was on the ground. And the people in that vehicle were allegedly stopped and interviewed, according to body camera footage, McGowan claims.
But the footage or a report of that interview wasn't included in the evidence McGowan received, he said. And neither were the names of the people who were reportedly interviewed.
Police Chief David Roddy’s full statement:
[The Chattanooga Police Department] has provided reports and video evidence that exists in this case to prosecutors. Mr. McGowan himself clearly stated in open court, a second car “allegedly” ran over Officer Nicholas Galinger after he was struck by Janet Hinds. The key word in McGowan’s own statement is “allegedly.” CPD is unable to provide non-existent evidence or information on something that “allegedly” is believed by Attorney McGowan to have occurred. The onus here is on Attorney McGowan to provide the driver or evidence that this second vehicle exists. CPD prides itself on truth, facts, and evidence. We expect the same from Attorney Ben McGowan.
Despite several officers having responded to the scene, only two incident reports were included in the case file, McGowan said.
But not all responding officers are required to fill out incident reports, according to police. Only the lead officer or the investigator are required to create a report.
McGowan also noted what he believed were problems with the investigation. He said a 3-D digital scan was taken of the scene, but the defense has not received that information, meaning there was "nothing for [the defense's] expert to actually review in terms of what was done in this case."
He also pointed to residential surveillance videos that were mentioned during Hinds' March 2019 preliminary hearing and some photos of the overflowing manhole cover and the fallen road sign that were taken by a witness just minutes prior to the crash and reportedly sent to police. McGowan said neither the videos nor the photos were included in the case file.
"These are items that, clearly, [police have] known about this entire time that somehow have failed to make it into discovery," he said. "While I feel that [Hamilton County District Attorney Neal] Pinkston has done his level best to turn over what he has, I believe that the police are suppressing information that relates to the death of one of their own. And it brings focus to the problem we've had since the beginning of this case, is that when an agency is assigned to investigate an incident that relates to one of their own, there is a possibility and there is a likelihood of suppression of information."
In a statement Tuesday afternoon, police Chief David Roddy refuted McGowan's claims, asserting his investigators have provided all of their evidence to state prosecutors.
"Mr. McGowan himself clearly stated in open court, a second car 'allegedly' ran over Officer Nicholas Galinger after he was struck by Janet Hinds," Roddy said. "The key word in McGowan's own statement is 'allegedly.'
"CPD is unable to provide non-existent evidence or information on something that 'allegedly' is believed by Attorney McGowan to have occurred. The onus here is on Attorney McGowan to provide the driver or evidence that this second vehicle exists."
A REQUEST TO MOVE THE TRIAL
Earlier this year, McGowan filed a request to move the trial out of concern that Hinds would not get a fair trial in Hamilton County because of "undue excitement against [Hinds]," allegedly caused by "extensive pretrial publicity."
He argued the social media response to news outlets' coverage of the case has been condemning and that the news outlets themselves have unfairly given the case more coverage than other cases in which a pedestrian was killed, and that the coverage "has not been objective nor fair, but instead has been quick to criticize, criminalize and convict the defendant."
Prosecutors, however, argued the news coverage has appeared to be unbiased so far, as it has followed the initial incident and each development throughout the court process.
Ultimately, Judge Poole focused on the social media response rather than the media's coverage.
"Certainly, the social media was not fair," he said. "It was inflammatory. The regular media appears to be fair, and not inflammatory."
But Poole decided to wait until jury selection to determine whether an unbiased jury can be selected.
Citing case law, Poole explained that jury questioning is designed for the purpose of weeding out those who have already formed prejudicial opinions and that there shouldn't be a presumption of prejudice just based on pretrial publicity.
In one case, he said, "the court said it would be irresponsible for the court to categorically [attribute] the vitriolic comments of those who post in online newspapers and other websites to the jury pool," Poole said. "I think that's important."
Just because some people post their opinions to the internet, it "does not provide evidence that potential jurors — believe that the defendant is guilty," he said. "Moreover, the court believes that the solution to the problem that these comments may pose is a thorough [jury questionnaire], not a venue change — [jury questioning] is designed for just that purpose."
Poole said he expects the attorneys to prepare a thorough questionnaire and he will give the defense "every opportunity for extensive" questioning.
If an impartial jury cannot be selected, then the trial will be postponed and the request to move the trial will be revisited, he said.
Hinds, 55, faces 10 charges, including vehicular homicide by way of intoxication and driving under the influence, in the Feb. 23, 2019, hit-and-run death.
While prosecutors say her drinking and speeding contributed to the fatal incident, McGowan has argued Galinger wasn't visible as he inspected an overflowing manhole on Hamill Road: The road sign over the manhole had lost its reflective cover, Galinger and his field training officer were dressed in blue and not wearing reflective vests, their cruiser lights weren't on, and it was dark and raining.